Support from northerners like you keeps our journalism alive. Sign up here.

Evacuation order issued for Fort Smith

Fire 7 earlier in August. Photo: Parks Canada
Fire 7 earlier in August. Photo: Parks Canada


The Town of Fort Smith is under an evacuation order after authorities decided a nearby wildfire would “impact road access and air quality.”

Head to Hay River, the town told anyone who does not already have accommodation lined up elsewhere. Hay River’s rec centre will serve as an evacuation centre.

More: Here’s what Hay River’s rec centre is offering
More: NWT fire map

Anyone without transport should get on buses leaving from Fort Smith’s rec centre. Saturday evening’s last bus was understood to be leaving at 9:30pm, with the rec centre closing at 10pm before reopening at 8am on Sunday, after which another bus will be available.



News of the evacuation order was being passed door-to-door by protective services staff.

Highway 5 remained open as of 9:30pm on Saturday but “closures are anticipated in the early morning hours of Sunday,” officials said, “depending on fire behaviour and smoke conditions.”

Fort Smith, population 2,600, is the sixth Northwest Territories community of the summer to require evacuation in the face of a wildfire threat. Hay River was one of the other five, alongside the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Wekweètì, Behchokǫ̀ and Sambaa K’e.

A wildfire that has burned in Wood Buffalo National Park for weeks crossed the highway about 40 km west of Fort Smith earlier this week.



Authorities fear high easterly winds forecast on Sunday could further jeopardize the highway, which is the only road connecting Fort Smith to the rest of Canada, and push the fire toward Fort Smith – complicating an evacuation if it was delayed any longer.

A map shows satellite hot-spots and burn area of a fire outside Fort Smith on August 12, 2023.
A map shows satellite hot-spots and burn area of a fire outside Fort Smith on August 12, 2023.

“Citizens are directed to remain calm and leave the area within the next eight hours,” an emergency message sent by the town shortly after 3pm stated.

“Parks Canada and GNWT Highways will try and maintain Highway 5 access for as long as possible throughout the night.”

You can’t take pets if you’re using the buses leaving the Fort Smith rec centre – call Northern Hound, the town said. Carpool where possible and check in with Elders and family.

The NWT’s health authority said the town’s health centre would close indefinitely from 3pm on Monday.

Jane Park, Parks Canada’s incident commander on the fire, told Cabin Radio winds on Sunday could hit gusts of 60 km/h or higher, with warmer temperatures also expected.

“By tomorrow morning, we do expect that the fire and/or smoke may impact the highway. And so the best opportunity for folks to be able to evacuate the Fort Smith area by ground, on the highway, would be in the next eight hours,” Park said.

More: Why the call was made to evacuate Fort Smith



In a Saturday morning update, Parks Canada said Fire 7, the fire burning west of the town, was likely to be driven toward Fort Smith by “incoming extreme winds that are forecasted from the west over the weekend.”

“Ignition operations on the northeast side of Fire 7 took place, reducing available fuels in advance of the wildfire,” Parks Canada stated.

“Sunday, winds shift and will push towards the east. Very high winds are expected, resulting in significant wildfire growth.”

The Smith’s Landing First Nation told its members to head to High Level, superseding the First Nation’s earlier suggestion that it was trying to find space in Peace River.

“Smith’s Landing has secured an evacuation and accommodation camp in High Level,” Chief Thaidene Paulette said.

“We will try to get everybody over to the High Level camp in the coming days,” he added, acknowledging that some members would be likely to head to Hay River first.

The fire to the west of Fort Smith is being fought jointly by Parks Canada, NWT Fire and Alberta Wildfire. Parks Canada said work is taking place to provide “coordinated messaging,” as residents currently have to negotiate updates from the three fire agencies and various levels of government each day.

“Thank you for making this an orderly evacuation,” the town told residents on Saturday night.

“For those that have decided to stay in the community, the Town of Fort Smith will continue to offer essential services as long as possible.

“If the community becomes directly threatened by a wildfire, the Town of Fort Smith will prepare the community and recreation centre for shelter-in-place needs.”